I’ve just come from RIM’s launch event for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. The tablet has evolved since CES, but my impressions of it remain the same. In short, it’s a racecar that’s missing a wheel. The PlayBook is a powerful device with solid hardware, lighter and more compact than the iPad. But by requiring a Bluetooth connection to a BlackBerry phone for basic applications like email, calendar, and IM, RIM has sacrificed consumer-friendliness for CIO peace-of-mind. As Walt Mossberg notes in his review, other apps users would expect like video-chat are also noticeably absent but will be provided via software updates in the near future. 

Why, then, would RIM risk lukewarm reviews to launch a v1 product? My view is that the PlayBook is more of a proof point of what's coming for RIM than it is an iPad competitor. The PlayBook demonstrates the power of RIM's recently-acquired QNX operating system. It's an engine revving to go, and the PlayBook's 7-inch screen gives it room to make some noise. For example, the PlayBook browser handles Flash flawlessly, and the ability to switch apps and keep a video or game running in the background is truly impressive.

RIM knows that there's no daylight between the enterprise market and the consumer market when it comes to tablets–workers, not CIOs, will decide which tablets succeed. We expect that in short order, RIM will make the necessary improvements to the PlayBook to attract consumers as a standalone device. The bigger story here is that tablets are becoming the battleground for OEMs–both from the mobile and PC space–to establish a lead in the post-PC era. The PlayBook is a product RIM can take risks on. Tablets are a new category, and success here is all upside. Apple has seen a halo effect of iPad sales boosting Mac sales. RIM hopes the PlayBook will do the same for its smartphone sales, and with version two, maybe it will.